The Need for Precision When Quoting Scripture

I’m currently reading a book by a Bible scholar. There are many commendable aspects of the book, but I find myself occasionally irritated by the author’s use of statements like, “The Bible never says . . . “ “In the New Testament . . .” Well and good. But where? Specifically, what Scriptural passages? There is a need for precision when quoting Scripture.

 

Of course, there is a time to be broad and vague. Most people don’t expect an 800-word blog post to be flooded with footnotes and thoroughly explained Bible texts in its historical and literary context. Billy Graham was famous for saying, “The Bible says . . . ” when preaching to the masses. Proof-texting is often rebuked by seminary-credentialed pastors and theologians, but this rebuke may be an overcorrection. Scripture is powerful, and sometimes quick, one-off statements about a biblical truth in certain contexts are appropriate.

But not with every medium. 

When engaging in long-form content, such as a theological book, you should show your readers the specific passages where you are making your arguments. This is also true for sermons, debates, lectures, and longish conversations with friends. Maybe not with every point. Don’t be cumbersome. Surely tone and style matter. But the most edifying long-form Christian content is when a believer explains, illustrates, and applies biblical passages according to the context in which they were written.  The Word is enduring, but not necessarily ideas outside of Scripture (although those ideas may be useful). 

As I read the book mentioned above, my experience is deficient because I don’t agree with some of the author’s conclusions, but I genuinely want to learn, and I’m very much open to being corrected. However, my learning process is stifled because the specific Bible passages are sometimes not listed when I need to engage with his ideas. I can easily think of Scripturally-based counter-arguments to his points, but we can’t engage because he doesn’t make his main points from specific texts. My learning process is cut short. 

Why do some Christian content producers not specifically quote Scripture when making biblical arguments? Embarrassingly, it’s because some don’t know Scripture well enough, which calls into question one’s credibility as a content producer. But this is certainly not the case with Mr. Bible Scholar. Sometimes writers are so familiar with a subject that they forget that normal folk don’t know what they’re talking about; they have a hard time connecting with average readers. It could also be laziness, carelessness, incompetence, assuming others will readily accept your argument, or simply not being convinced of the power of Scripture. 

On the flip side, you want to avoid carelessly and merely listing every Bible verse you know about subject X in the name of biblical fidelity. I once received a book in the mail in which the author copied and pasted several Scripture references together in multiple places in the book.  “This is going to be so effective because I’m quoting God’s Word,” he may have thought. And he should be commended for his zeal to include Scripture in his book. But style, tone, and organization matter in writing, and your readers can be unengaged with you, even if you mention a lot of Bible verses in your work. Just because you’re spiritual doesn’t mean you’re effective.

No, you don’t need Scripture in every YouTube video, podcast, or blog post. But when creating Christian content on a biblical subject, especially one in which there is disagreement, it seems best to show your points from specific Scriptural text and even show how other themes of Scripture relate to the texts you have chosen. 

I want your Christian content to edify others. By all means, show us your writing or speaking skills, and give us good advice, wisdom, and application. But if you really want to make a difference with long-form content, make your arguments appropriately from Scripture. 

Popular Posts